The Congress on Wednesday postponed all political rallies and programmes in poll-bound states, including Uttar Pradesh, citing the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country and growing alarm that these - which draw crowds of thousands - could emerge as super-spreader events.
KC Venugopal, the Congress' General Secretary, said the party had asked its state units to assess the on-ground situation and decide whether or not to proceed with planned political events.
"Congress has decided to postpone major rallies in UP and other poll-bound states. We have asked state units to assess the COVID-19 situation in their states and then take a decision on holding rallies," Mr Venugopal was quoted by news agency ANI.
The Congress' state election committee has also written to Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra to "cancel big rallies in view of the anticipated third Covid wave".
Meanwhile, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has cancelled a government function in Gautam Buddh Nagar district on Thursday. While no official reason has been given, the district has reported the highest number of Covid cases from the state in the past week.
All of this comes after shocking scenes yesterday from UP's Bareilly district, where hundreds of women and teen girls were without masks during a party event and there was nearly a stampede.
In scary visuals from Tuesday, hundreds of women and teen girls were seen without masks at a marathon organised by the Congress as part of its 'ladki hun, lad sakti hun' election campaign.
The crowd filled an entire road and, as they started, a few women in the front tripped and fell down, leading to a brief scare as hundreds pushed to get past those in the front.
The situation almost led to a stampede; fortunately, no one was injured.
Congress leader and former Bareilly mayor Supriya Aron, who organised the event, played down the scare and deflected concerns by pointing to the stampede at the Vaishno Devi shrine.
UP will vote for a new government in less than two months, but the scheduled polls come as the country is experiencing a spike in Covid cases, with much of the concern centred on the Omicron variant - a more infectious and, potentially, more vaccine-resistant strain of the coronavirus.
The Allahabad High Court last month asked the Election Commission and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to defer the UP polls, if only by a few months. However, after a meeting between Union Health Ministry and the Election Commission, it was announced the polls would be held as scheduled.
Some preventive measures were announced - including extending voting hours and increasing the number of voting booths - but the commission shied away from immediately cracking down on political rallies attended by tens of thousands of and during which social distancing is absent.
"Our responsibility begins after poll dates are announced and the model code of conduct kicks in. Till then, the responsibility lies with the state government, and they would act as per recommendations of the state disaster management authority," Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said.
This morning India logged 58,097 new COVID-19 cases - a daily increase for the sixth time in nine days. There are also 2,135 cases of the Omicron strain identified so far, with 31 from UP.
With input from ANI